First residents move into once controversial Grove Apartments

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

When Christophe Adams, 38, moved into his fully accessible, one-bedroom unit at the just-opened Grove Apartments in Oak Park, no one had to tell him twice that he was now home.

Four years ago Adams suffered a spinal stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. Since then he has lived in two local nursing homes and then an Oak Park condo that was not built to be accessible for a person with his disabilities.

"I was in one rehab place and then another one, and they were not feeding me well or giving me any rehab whatsoever, so," he says, "when the Progress Center gave me an application for (the Grove Apartments), my aunt kept saying, 'you should sign up, you should sign up' I finally did."

Adams moved in to The Grove Apartments, previously the Comcast cable TV headquarters and, in its development phase a controversial affordable housing project, just last week.

As a participant in the "Money Follows the Person Demonstration Program," which is administered by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Adams says he did win a lottery when he was chosen as one of 12 individuals with disabilities to reside in one of the 12 fully accessible units here.

Edward Solan is CEO of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, one of the key backers of the project. He says for individuals such as Adams, who describes himself as a paraplegic, that the Grove Apartments are a strong match. Many of the applicants with disabilities "are being referred to us by the State of Illinois, and are people who wanted to move out of a nursing home, and because of a referral through the State of Illinois system, are living at Grove Apartments now," says Solan.

The remaining 39 units at Madison Street and Grove will be occupied by a diverse mix of single adults, and some single parents with one child under the age of eighteen, thanks to the Regional Housing Initiative, a program that provides housing vouchers to qualified applicants, says Solan.

"A consortium of local housing authorities in Northeastern Illinois have put together a program for people to live in areas with good access to transportation, jobs, good schools, " Solan says. "We don't have the final resident list yet, as there are still some units being filled. But, we do know that the remaining two-thirds of the units will be filled by people who have lived somewhere else in Oak Park, or have worked in Oak Park at least 20 hours per week, because that is one of the criteria we set -- living or working here."

Solan, who recently announced his retirement from the Housing Authority, anticipates that the apartment complex will be fully occupied by early December, if not a little sooner.

Not in my neighborhood

Solan acknowledges the strong, initial opposition to the project three years back by its immediate neighbors who were critical of the affordable housing aspects of the plan. A series of heated public meetings followed. In the end, with strong support from Oak Park's village government, the collaborative effort between the Interfaith Housing Development Corporation and the Oak Park Housing Authority was approved. Partnering with them, says Solan, has been the Oak Park Residence Corporation, the building's manager; Catholic Charities, the onsite case management and service linkage provider; plus other local nonprofits, including Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park.

"We have been able to deliver what we said we would deliver," says Solan regarding the project's controversial start. "Time will tell, but I am optimistic that our residents will move seamlessly into the neighborhood."

In the meantime, a floor down from Adams, Stacy Collier, 53, has moved in. She is still unpacking boxes, but has put her large collection of refrigerator magnets on display in her new kitchen, a homey touch.

"I was in living in an apartment on north Austin (Blvd.), the heat was not good, and I am severely asthmatic, and stuff like that. It was just too cold for me. I just needed a better place. I heard about Grove Apartments in the newspaper and thought it would be good for me. As soon as I applied, Stephen [Dewhite, the site manager] called me. They inspected my apartment, and then everything happened so fast. I thought it must have been there for me," Collier says with emotion in her voice. "When I got to Grove, I felt like I am at home, and that really makes me feel good."

The tour

To walk-through the totally renovated and expanded building is to take in a space that is big, bright, clean, rich in amenities -- what Solan calls a state-of-the-art, LEED certified building. It features a geo-thermal heating and cooling system; ample parking spots for tenants, plus access to two I-Go cars; first floor storage areas for tenants; and a large community room, with nearby kitchen. He hopes both tenants and neighborhood residents will use those spaces for activities and meetings.

"[Before Comcast], this used to be a car dealership, and they used to park cars on all the floors, including the rooftop, so the architect built to massive scale, with huge columns to make sure the building could stand up to weight," Solan says. "One of the things that the current architect had to do is work around the existing windows because we didn't want to change the character on the outside of the building, so we had to line up the units with the windows."

On each of the three residential floors are 17 one-bedroom units, varying in configuration and size between 425 to 475 square feet, with four of the units on each floor being fully accessible for individuals with disabilities. Nearby is a communal laundry room, one per floor, that is particularly convenient for people who use wheelchairs, "so they don't have to schlep their laundry all over," he says.

Still being built-out is 5,200 square feet of commercial and retail space on the first floor that was required under village zoning.

Eight days in, Adams says he has already cooked his first meatless meal, is pretty much settled in, with "just a little bit of this and that left to do."

"I have a piece of African Kente cloth I am going to hang over there, and I want to get a nice shelf on the wall here to put my old tribal clay pot so I can see it all the time [from the bed]. Sometimes I go to the library, or maybe Whole Foods in River Forest to buy cereals," he says, pointing to what he calls his power chair. "I can hop in my chair and I will be there before you know it."

Today, he is off to the Brown Elephant resale shop in the Harrison Street Arts District to possibly purchase a new jacket, and some 50 cent magazines.

"I am also looking for a nice '70s lamp, because I like retro," he says laughing.

Reader Comments

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Simple question looking for a simple answer from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 14th, 2013 8:59 AM

The simple question is, will she get a spot it not? She deserves it for many reasons including what Mr Solan's team got out of her testimony. If the question is no, then I'd like to have a policy discussion.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 5th, 2013 6:12 PM

Thanks for the information, Mr. Sloan. Affordable housing is a now reality for a number of residents and people who work in Oak Park. Your service to the community is appreciated. Enjoy your retirement!

Edward Solan from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 5th, 2013 3:20 PM

@JBM, there is no HUD rule that prohibits persons who already have housing in the community from moving to the Grove Apartments. In fact, many of our residents, as noted in the article, have come to the Grove Apartments from other housing in the village. Some have been living with parents, friends, other rental housing etc. In response to Mr. Coughlin, the monthly rent is $690, including all utilities. Some tenants are paying the full rent without assistance, some others have rental assistance.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 5th, 2013 3:04 PM

John, as I recall she eloquently expressed a simple desire to continue living in her hometown and that paying rent was not as much an issue as being able to find housing that was suitable for some special needs. She also spoke about friends who were dealing with similiar circumstances. It's certainly understandable that a young adult would want to live independently and the only holding her back was a lack of options. She only asked for a chance and if the trustees are able to make that happen; let's give it to her and many other Oak Park residents.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 5th, 2013 1:33 PM

Jim - The sad part of the handicapped girl who wanted to gain independence by having a room in the Grove Apartments is that it probably can never happen. The HUD rule for residents states that if the applicant already has housing, the person is not eligible. She lives with her parents in OP and would not be eligible. Living close to the Grove Apartments, I pass it regularly day and night. The thought that two people are living alone (one with an apartment on the southside and one on the northside) is eerie. No mention was made in the article of the two residents' safety, security, and availability of medical support.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 5th, 2013 12:31 PM

The plan was to offer affordable housing for Oak Park residents but there's no mention in this report how much rent the tenants are paying. Is that information available? Great to read that people with disabilities are being provided with an opportunity to live independently. There remains a real need in our community and trust the Village board keeps its' pledge to continue to explore more housing options for those with special needs. A young Oak Park woman once spoke to the trustees of her dream to be able to stay in Village and live on her own in an apartment that was designed to accomodate physical challenges. Let's not forget her.

Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 7:51 PM

So far, so good. Happy to welcome these newest neighbors.

Chuck Izzo from River Forest  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 4:24 PM

I wish Kenilworth would build affordable housing units. I would then move up to the North Shore and enjoy the Lake and the low crime rates.


Posted: November 1st, 2013 2:21 PM

This bodes well for the economic rebirth of Madison! "Today, he is off to the Brown Elephant resale shop in the Harrison Street Arts District to possibly purchase a new jacket, and some 50 cent magazines." We'll be getting, what, a Dollar Store to go with the wig shops?

Patricia O'Shea from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:32 AM

For the record, I would have opposed this whether built close to my home or anywhere else in Oak Park. I do not support this housing strategy given the lessons U.S. history has taught. That said, I do hope that it succeeds both for those who live there for Oak Park and yes, for the neighbors of the building. I also hope the Wednesday Journal goes for some less opinionated reporting next time. This reads like an editorial.

Janet from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 11:13 AM

I so love the welcoming comments! Oak Park is, indeed, a special place, and these new neighbors will thrive in this lovely setting.

Wondering NIMBY  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 10:54 AM

Are they naming them the J B Murtagh and Co home? They should for all the attention he and pals gave it. LOL

OP resident  

Posted: November 1st, 2013 8:29 AM

In my opinion there is nothing controversial about providing accessible housing at an affordable cost. I only wish there were more than 12 units for people with disabilities, but this is a great start.


Posted: November 1st, 2013 12:54 AM

my sentiments exactly, just who decided that this project was "no longer controversial"? I guess when the village can ram a social engineering project down the throats of the neighbors, that it's no longer controversial because it's too late to stop it. We are the same residents that ride the Green line by all of the $250k scattered site town homes on the west side that are already condemned. we know just how these things end up.

Neighbor from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 10:20 PM

"Once controversial"? In whose opinion? Many neighboring houses have changed owners, some as a direct result of this development. The neighborhood is still hoping Ed Solan and team can deliver on their promises. Funny he's retiring just as this project comes on line, huh? Perhaps his riding off into the sunset just underscores his insincerity. Distaste for the BS throughout the hearings aside, I hope this project can be all that was promised to the trustees and neighbors.

Helen Kossler from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 9:44 PM

I've been watching the building be rehabbed. It looks very handsome. Welcome to the new neighbors

JH from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 8:03 PM

To all the new tenants: Much joy, warmth, and peace in your new home.

Welcome from Oak park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 6:52 PM

Welcome to the community. Hope you find comfort in the neighborhoods & support necessary to remain independent.

Reader from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 5:57 PM

Didn't you read the article? People from Oak Park are given preference. It states that about 2/3 are from Oak Park--either live or work here.

Just curious  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 5:27 PM

How many of the new residents are from oak park? Oak Parker's were supposed to be first on the list. Is this e first of many promises to be broken by the developer?

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